KENYA – Two non-governmental organizations, Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network are calling for a review of the existing seed law which they claim favours large corporations at the expense of small-scale farmers.
They said the Seed and Plant Varieties Act 326 of 2012 should be amended in order to recognize and allow the sale, exchange and sharing of indigenous seeds in Kenya and an integration of the farmer seed management system into the law.
According to the two environmental lobby groups, smallholder farmers across the country have been shocked to learn that the ban prohibits farmers from sharing, exchanging or selling uncertified and unregistered seeds.
In addition, the legislation punishes offenders with a prison sentence of up to a maximum of two years or a fine of up to ksh1 million (USD 8,532) or both.
Claire Nasike, Greenpeace Africa’s Campaigner highlighted that the government has failed in its obligation of enacting laws to protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and intellectual property rights, in indigenous knowledge on seeds in Kenya.
“The current seed laws reinforce neo-colonialism and potentially give big multinationals, big business and profit-driven entities a free leeway to pirate local resources,” she claimed through a press statement.
The findings were collected during a week-long joint Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network field trip that was undertaken in the counties of Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Nakuru and Kakamega.
Nasike claimed the law has remained obscure with only very few Kenyans being aware of the full extent of its punitive nature.
She similarly said farming communities in these counties were astounded that no public participation was carried out prior to the passing of this law.
Informal seed system
She stressed that the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which is the supreme law, has expressly recognized the existence and the need to preserve indigenous seeds commonly referred to as informal seeds, by placing an obligation upon Parliament to pass legislation that would protect the ownership of such indigenous seeds.
“Such draconian seed laws have paved the way for a neo-colonial capitalistic culture of exploiting farmers to thrive – by encouraging corporate control on seeds and the food system in Kenya.
“These punitive laws will limit the farmers’ ability to grow their desired, nutrient dense, locally available crops leading to a loss in the food diversity from farm to plate,” she continued.
Studies have shown that 90 per cent of the seeds planted in Kenya are from informal seed systems and that 80 per cent of smallholder farmers in Kenya depended on informal seed systems which included sharing seeds with other farmers, selling and buying at the local markets.
The officials therefore say denying these farmers the right to use their indigenous seeds is a theft of the biological resources which would translate to low food production leading to food insecurity.
Dominic Kimani, who is an Advocacy Officer at Seed Savers Network publicly faulted the law terming it as a tactic to control Kenya’s food system and rid the local farmers of their livelihoods.
Kimani is now calling upon the government to ensure the rights of farmers are protected by doing away with any law taking advantage of local farming communities.
“Seeds are part of our cultural heritage and are the most crucial input in farming. Small scale farmers have over the years improved various crops through selection, seed saving and sharing. Their role as seed custodians and breeders should be supported by the government by enacting laws that protect them,” says Kimani.